The Theatreguide.London Review
Hammersmith Apollo December 2012
Every generation has to re-invent Hair. In 1968 it was Hair, in 1996 it was Rent, and now it is this stage production built on Green Day's 2004 rock album – like its predecessors a musical so fresh and full of energy that it reinvigorates the art form and attracts and speaks to a whole new audience.
You don't have to be a Green Day fan or under 30 to respond to this musical, both the songs themselves and the way lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and director Michael Mayer have given them a theatrical form. As one who was not particularly familiar with Green Day's music I can appreciate that it is high energy (by which I mean it's loud) and quite accessible (by which I mean there are actual melodies) and that the lyrics, while rarely rising to high poetry, have an honest directness that can be moving.
The album had an implicit story line, which Armstrong and Mayer have developed more fully, so that the musical is the story of three friends eager to escape their small town ('Jesus of Suburbia').
One enters a life of sex ('She's a Rebel') and drugs ('St. Jimmy'), one is conned into joining the army ('Favorite Son'), one stays home with his pregnant girlfriend ('Give Me Novacaine'), and things don't work out particularly well for any of them ('Wake Me Up When September Ends').
I've indicated a few of the songs – there are actually close to thirty – to show album-lovers how they have been adapted to fit the story. In fact the integration is so smooth that very few seem shoehorned into the plot line or characters.
Ultimately the story isn't particularly original – or, at a few isolated moments, particularly coherent. The power of the show is in the songs, in the staging, and in the clear sense of a real and direct communication taking place between performers and audience.
Director Mayer and designer Christine Jones give the stage an industrial look, with metal frames and balconies, banks of TV monitors and an onstage band. Stephen Hoggett's choreography is edgy and inventive, never lapsing into either music video or Broadway chorus line clichés, and there's even a quite beautiful flying sequence.
The all-American cast is made up almost entirely of relative beginners – lead Alex Nee is still in university, with Thomas Hettrick, Casey O'Farrell and many of the others recent graduates – and their youth brings the show a vitality and authenticity.
Hair, as it turned out, did not revolutionise the musical, and neither did Rent. But they were perfect expressions of their time and place, and spoke to new audiences in new ways, and were important (not to mention entertaining) for that.
American Idiot has the same power, immediacy and entertainment value. It's only playing in London for two weeks, and to miss it will be to miss an important moment in the history of the musical.
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Review - American Idiot - Hammersmith Apollo 2012